King Decision is Latest Administrative Miscue
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It’s not a stretch to say that I haven’t been too impressed with the University’s administration this year.
My roommates can attest that I have had my fair share of “I really hate this school” moments over the years. But only recently have I realized to what I’m referring to when I say “this school.”
In fact, I don’t hate the student body. I don’t hate the professors. I don’t hate the Red Storm. I don’t even hate the massive amounts of stairs I have to climb on a daily basis. (They’re my version of a workout most days.)
I really just hate that a place with so much potential is being hampered by an administration that seemingly can’t do anything right, or rather, in the best interest of the rest of the University community.
The most common criticism that I heard about Rev. Donald Harrington, C.M., President of the University, before the recent controversy, was that he was not a public figure. Much of the student body didn’t know what he looked like, or even who he was. They hadn’t seen him at events on campus and couldn’t put a face to the name.
Now, after the public controversies facing him, I believe more students know who he is and, even, what he looks like (no doubt due to the number of Torch covers with his face). But he is still a mystery to so many people on campus.
Harrington seems to only come out of his ivory tower in the middle of the spring semester for his annual “town-hall” meetings with students and faculty “forums” (However, this year he chose not to attend either, saying it was best to remain silent during the Board of Trustees investigation.)
Meredith Kenyon, former Student Government Inc. secretary, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that even SGI, an “independent” organization tasked with representing the students to the administration, among other things, is not allowed to independently present the state of the students to Harrington, rather student “concerns were kind of twisted” by other members of the administration.
The example the Chronicle uses is enlightening, “If they complained about limited parking, for example, they might instead be encouraged to applaud the president for the university’s enrollment growth, which made parking scarce.”
Clearly, actual student input is not important to them.
This couldn’t have been clearer this year after the University flat-out refused to consider a student-run LGBTQ organization – despite students’ dissatisfaction with the current offerings. In a statement, the University unequivocally said, “we would not recognize a gay alliance.” The school has also been publicly embroiled in controversy after controversy, stemming from the never-ending Cecilia Chang saga, with calls for more transparency from students, faculty and alumni going nowhere.
The icing on the cake seemed to be the administration’s financially motivated decision to sell the Manhattan campus, a building that St. John’s has owned for 13 years and helped establish St. John’s in the financial district of the financial capital of the world.
But then, Peter King was chosen as the commencement speaker for the Queens Campus. And unfortunately I do not mean Sports Illustrated’s Peter King; I mean Congressman Peter King of the Islamophobic remarks and McCarthy-esque “Islamic radicalization” hearings.
Never mind that 3.4 percent of our student body is Muslim, according the to the 2011 University Fact Book, the last year publicly available.
Never mind that Muslim students made up nearly 5 percent of the Fall 2009 freshman class, the students graduating this May.
Rather the administration thinks that King’s work after SuperStorm Sandy is more important and more relevant. They have apparently determined that his good service to the NY community, which no one has denied, outweighs his public opinions and past actions against a community of which many of our students are a part.
The administration cannot argue that these things are in the past for King. He has taken the tragic “Boston Bombings” as his new motivation to begin calling for racially and religiously based profiling. As he so eloquently put it to the National Review last week, “they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there.”
To top this all off, King’s reaction to students’ protests of him, which was covered by nearly every major newspaper in New York City, was through a statement on his website in which he says, “Students at St. John’s University are protesting my selection as this year’s commencement speaker. That, of course, is their right even though they are misguided and wrong.” (Emphasis mine.)
Rather than choosing to take the high road in a situation that can truly not benefit anybody, King chose to attack the very students he is supposed to be congratulating and motivating on May 19th.
At this point, it has become unclear whether the University community is on an episode of Punk’d and the plan is for Harrington and Ashton Kutcher to jump out at graduation and say that this whole year was a joke.
In 2011, my sophomore year, the administration decided to change the way they were going to do graduation. In mid-March they announced that they would not be calling each graduate’s name – rather they would project a slideshow of graduates’ photos.
This caused uproar, with angry graduates and parents demanding a change. Online, people voiced their opinions with nearly 1000 students joining a facebook page and more than 300 signing an online petition, according to a Torch report at the time. The University reversed their decision within a week, citing the “active student response”.
I remember being impressed that the administration listened to the student body and adjusted their plans accordingly. I was proud that students stood up and made their voices heard, especially for an event that is much more important to the graduates than the administrators. I don’t think the situation could have been handled better from either party.
Now it’s their turn again. The students and community have spoken. More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition against King speaking at commencement in the last week, many adding their own comments.
Rather than hiding or refusing to comment, the administration needs to admit their mistake and replace King immediately. They need to show the student body that they are listening and that they care about their concerns.
In a year where it has seemed that they have done all they could to turn the public opinion against them; they have this chance to right a wrong. They have a chance to make an impression on some freshman or sophomore student, as they did to me two years ago.
St. John’s has the potential to be great. Unfortunately the only people holding it back are the people charged with making it better. Once they prove that they do, in fact, take student and community concerns seriously, St. John’s could maybe, just maybe, begin to fill its immense potential.